Vandals have stolen at least four ancient rock carvings, apparently using cement-cutting circular saws to slice them out of a valuable archeological site in California, experts said.
The petroglyphs, etched by ancient hunters 3,500 years ago, had survived winds, floods and earthquakes over that time, but they were hauled off in a matter of hours, the Los Angeles Times reported on Monday.
A fifth suffered deep saw cuts and a sixth was removed, but broken and abandoned near a parking lot in the Eastern Sierra desert, while dozens of others were scarred by hammer blows.
“The individuals who did this were not surgeons, they were smashing and grabbing,” US Bureau of Land Management (BLM) archeologist Greg Haverstock, told the newspaper.
“This was the worst act of vandalism ever seen” on the 750,000 acres of public land managed by his field office in Bishop, eastern California, he said.
The stolen slabs of rock were 0.37m2 in size and were up to 5m off the ground, requiring ladders and electrical generators for the power saws.
The ancient carvings show circles, deer, snakes and hunters with bows and arrows. The area is known as the Volcanic Tableland and is considered sacred territory for Native Americans of the Paiute-Shoshone tribe.
Bernadette Lovato, manager of the BLM field office about 320km inland from San Francisco near the Nevada border, informed tribal leaders after the theft was discovered by visitors on Oct. 31.
“It was the toughest telephone call I ever had to make,” Lovato said. “Their culture and spiritual beliefs had been horribly violated. We will do everything in our power to bring those pieces back.”
Archeologist David Whitley, who helped the site gain a listing on the US National Register of Historic Places, said the theft exposed the vulnerability of such treasures and the difficulty of managing them.